It’s appropriate that on May Day, as hundreds of thousands of people across the world filled the streets, demanding better working conditions, greater job security and improved quality of life, GOOD should publish a post about the cold, hard reality of teaching yoga.
In the article, Making It As a Yoga Teacher: Not As Zen As You Think, actor and writer Sue Smith details her short-lived career as a yoga teacher. She explained that after seven years of practice, she decided to teach yoga to get out of the restaurant industry. She wanted to teach yoga because:
I envied my yoga teachers, who seemed to be these rich, serene deities who lived in pajamas and had legions of followers. I wanted that life. I mean, sweatpants to work? (I’d sworn off khakis and blazers my first year out of college.) My childhood goal was to become a known philosopher. To me, yoga seemed like a perfect, zen way out of my grueling server lifestyle.
I was wrong. Turns out teaching yoga is just another service job.
Which is true. Service is at the heart of yoga. While it’s possible to teach yoga and be of service outside of the service industry, the reality of life is that yoga is a $5.7 billion dollar industry in North America. As such, yoga teachers are subject to the poor working conditions and low wages seen in many other service jobs.
The article is a bit of a rant, and it’s clear that Smith was not born to be a yoga teacher. That’s why she was disappointed that teaching yoga wasn’t the shiny, easy, “zen” work experience she’d been hoping for while she developed her acting and comedy career. However, what Smith does is point out and articulate the very real class divide in the yoga world.
Because competition is so fierce, most new teachers will teach anywhere they can, and pay can be low if it exists at all. Startups and new places generally pay their teachers on a “bringer” basis: the teacher may have a base rate of five to 10 dollars, and then earn two to five dollars per student…
The established places, meanwhile, make bank. In New York City, most studios charge upward of $20 for drop-in classes—$26 at the studio where I studied. Many studios can hold at least 20 students, which can translate $400 for the studio for a full class. But the teachers only see a fraction of that cash. These studios will pay their teachers $25 to $30 per class, sometimes slightly more if the teachers have been there for several years. Chain gyms like 24-Hour Fitness are the more desirable gigs because they start their teachers off at $50 per class and offer benefits. Pure Yoga, an offshoot of Equinox, pays an unheard-of $80 per class.
If you teach yoga, how do you feel about the working conditions and wages of your chosen profession? Do you suck it up and live in poverty, or do you have an entrepreneurial spirit?